Monk seal pup reunited with mom after getting trapped in the Natatorium

Honolulu Star-Advertiser, July 28, 2017 (Updated July 29, 2017 5:25pm)
By Leila Fukimori

Monk seal pup reunited with mom after getting trapped in the Natatorium

CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / JULY 3 A Hawaiian monk seal known as “Rocky” and her pup, Kaimana, were briefly separated on Friday when her pup took a dip at the Waikiki Natatorium.

Kaimana, the 4-week-old monk seal pup born at Kaimana Beach in Waikiki, wandered away for the first time from her Kauai-born mom, “Rocky,” Friday night.

The two were separated for about 40 to 50 minutes when Kaimana took a dip at the Waikiki Natatorium, while Rocky kept calling out for her baby girl.

All the while, mom had been “pacing up and down and vocalizing,” said David Schofield, Marine Mammal Health and Response Coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries.

“Pup is getting stronger and more adventurous and swimming farther away and got herself in a precarious situation,” said Aliza Milette-Winfree, NOAA Oahu Marine Mammal Response coordinator.

Volunteers from the Hawaii Marine Animal Response Team, who have been keeping a watchful eye over mom, designated by NOAA as RH58, and pup, PO3. But they lost sight of Kaimana for about 30 minutes, and immediately called Milette-Winfree and her team. They quickly arrived and gained access to the Natatorium and had to be guided through the dilapidated area.

They discovered the pup swimming in a shallow inner canal at the Natatorium, and not the main pool.

After observing Kaimana and assessing the situation, Milette-Winfree ran out and got a beach blanket from someone on the beach for use as a stretcher.

In minutes, team members, some in the water, rolled her onto the blanket, carried the roughly 100- to 200-pound, 4-foot chubby pup out and got her back to mom on nearby Kaimana Beach.

They were reunited at about 8:40 p.m.

Schofield said they expect mother and daughter to remain at the beach for another two weeks.

After the pup, dubbed “Kaimana” by the community, is weaned, she will be tagged with two official NOAA tags, one on each flipper, and an official designation, but for now is simply PO3.

Milette-Winfree warns the public that the mother seal may get protective and recommends that people swim at another beach.

“Mom is going to be incredibly vigilant and looking out for her wily, little daughter, so she’s going to be incredibly protective right now as the pup gets stronger and stronger and moves farther away from her,” she said.

“Moms can move like a rocket in order to try and protect their pups,” she said.

“It’s been a stressful time for us because of concern about mom’s protective behavior,” while trying to keep the public safe.

Schofield says that after the mom leaves, the danger of aggression will be over, but the next concern will be for the pup’s safety.

The state and NOAA officials continue to urge people to use other beaches.